Molecular cell testing may eliminate the need for unnecessary thyroid surgeries

Doctors at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (CU) recently found a nodule in the thyroid of a 64-year-old Colorado man. They extracted cells from the nodule, hoping to determine whether the man had cancer, but the biopsy results were inconclusive.

The CU doctors sent the cell sample to a laboratory. There, a test analyzed the cells' molecular patterns, producing a result that showed there was a high level of certainty he did not have cancer.

The doctors are helping lead the way nationally in the use of this approach to evaluate suspicious thyroid nodules. The test that benefited the 64-year-old patient could eliminate the need for tens of thousands of unnecessary thyroid surgeries every year.

"This should allow many patients to avoid the cost, discomfort and risk of surgery," said Bryan Haugen, who heads the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes at the CU medical school.

In 15 to 30 percent of thyroid samples, it can be hard to tell whether or not the cells are cancerous. The next step in most cases has been for a surgeon to remove part, or all, of the thyroid. That tissue is then examined further. More than 70 percent of the time, there is no cancer.